Common Ground tackles campus climate

Elizabeth Worthington, Staff Writer

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“It’s always important to talk about diversity, and address the challenges that minoritized groups face,” Codirector of Common Ground Taylan Stulting ’16 said.

The Common Ground retreat is part of the University’s efforts to raise awareness regarding issues of race, ethnicity, and gender. While most students took Fall Break as an opportunity to relax, recuperate, and spend time with their families at home, a select group participated in the annual five-day retreat held in Cowan, Pa. Founded by University students in 2008, Common Ground leads with a focus on exploring diversity topics to increase acceptance and tolerance within the University communityStulting said that Common Ground aims “to facilitate an empowering experience of seeing our peers beyond stereotypes and assumptions, and as the people they really are. It’s about finding Common Ground.

“We want students who participate in Common Ground to leave the retreat with a greater understanding of diversity, identity, and each other. We don’t want to indoctrinate students with any certain set of beliefs, but rather foster an environment where we can engage in dialogue across difference. To me, the most important aspect of Common Ground is applying what we learn at the retreat to our daily lives on campus,”  Stulting said.

Participation is based on selection from an application process. According to Director of Campus Activities and Programs Mike Duignan, approximately 45-55 students take part in the retreat each year. This year about 48 students were selected to participate. Three directors and 14 facilitators helped in the planning of the retreat.

“They were extremely committed and focused this year … This retreat would not have happened without the drive, heart, and compassion of these individuals,” Duignan said.

During the retreat, participants worked mostly in small groups or with an assigned partner. Faculty and staff also got involved in a few workshops with the students. The retreat focused on controversial issues like race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender, privilege, religion, and disability. Each topic corresponded to an activity that made the participants think critically about the issue.

Feedback from the participants was very enthusiastic.

“Common Ground enabled me to see myself, my peers, and the world around me through an empathetic lens. In order to respect and understand one another, we must recognize that we all have different experiences, and that these experiences constitute the intersectionality of our individual identities. Our identities are what make us unique and also what make us similar. Through Common Ground, I found that there was more that connected me with other people than isolated me,” Alex Rosen ’16 said.

“Common Ground surpassed all my expectations. I was able to feel truly loved and a part of the Bucknell community,” Andy Alder ’18 said.

“I was initially hesitant on participating in Common Ground, but I’m glad I did because I was able to gain a new community at Bucknell through this program, and I don’t regret my decision,” Ella Johnson ’17 said.

“Common Ground was an incredible experience. The retreat provides a free space to learn so much about others and engage in serious self reflection over the course of the retreat with the most supportive and caring community I could ever imagine,” John Quinn ’18 said.

“Participants truly love this experience. What makes Common Ground so special is that participants really do not know what to expect and partly that is by design,” Duignan said.

Duignan also pointed out that the participants come into the experience as mere acquaintances or even strangers, “but after these five days they truly transform into a lovely and supportive family.”

“The family you gain can become your strongest support system. The delirious moments you may have when you decide to stay up all night can be some of the funniest and best memories of your college experience,” Stulting said.

“Yes, a lot has happened over the course of the year, but really these are conversations and experiences you should always be a part of no matter what is going on in our community. Because as a community we can always reach higher, expand our minds more, and build bridges of success for all of our community. This is not an option but an expectation of who we are as a community here at Bucknell,” Duignan said in response to diversity issues on campus.

“I don’t think it is any more or less important because of the recent events on campus. I think those events led to more visibility about the issues Common Ground tries to tackle, which made more people interested in participating. But I actually think things like Common Ground are more needed when visibility is low. Those are the times when the need for action isn’t backed by the community at large, and such events can help garner support and recognition,” Stulting said.

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